Summary: When Alan reviewed GT3 four years ago, he said he couldn’t remember the last time he had had this much fun. Four years later, we now have Gran Turismo 4. Does it still have what it takes? Two words: HDTV gaming!
We imported Gran Turismo 4 at the beginning of January from NCSX (where incidentally we’ve imported every other Gran Turismo game for the PS2). While our game was in transit, a startling rumor began to pop up on message boards: GT4 supported HDTV resolutions. No one believed the rumors at first – Sony had never mentioned it before, and with only 4MB of eDRAM in the PlayStation 2, the framebuffer would need at least 3MB, leaving no room for textures. Polyphony Digital would have to be using some magic streaming voodoo technology to copy data into memory and delete it as soon as it was used to make room for the next bit of data.
Well, the rumor is true, GT4 will run at HDTV 1080i resolutions in single player mode (or LAN play) with a notable improvement in image quality. For once, the high resolution, anti-aliased images produced by Sony’s development PS2 systems is close to what the end user can really achieve. Thus, we’ve gone with the USB 1280x960 images from the photo mode for our screenshots. Some of these shots look stunning, and your first question will be to ask if the game really looks like that in real-time.
The motion blur and depth-of-field effects are significantly worse in-game, and so we’ve minimized the number of shots using this feature, but with an HDTV, the geometry and anti-aliased look to the game is there. The cars in these still shots look just as good in-game.
In the interest of time, we’re going to assume that you’re familiar with Gran Turismo 3 and we’ll gear this article as comparison between GT3 and GT4. In addition, the only way to play GT4 is with the force feedback steering wheel – the gamepad is just for navigating menus. We’ll return with a formal GT4 article including gamepad discussion once the US version is released.
SIDEBAR: The Japanese version of GT4 comes with a 209 page reference guide. Based upon the GT3 track record, this guide won’t make it to the US.
The premise behind GT4 remains the same as GT3, a “true driving simulator.” Like GT3, GT4 continues to have a superb physics engine that allows you to get a feel of the difference between different cars. Airborne physics also seem a bit better. Unfortunately, GT4 has not progressed to a true “racing” simulator – although the computer AI is better, it still doesn’t handle itself properly and damage modeling continues to be absent.
In the grand scheme of things, Polyphony Digital has chosen to allocate those resources toward graphics and physics. I think it’s more of a limitation of the PS2 than it is of the development team. The only change to the damage model is that there is a 5 second penalty when you crash and an accumulation buffer visual blur effect. Physics modeling is better than it was in GT3. Although GT3 did a great job with the suspension and subtle perspective changes associated with braking, GT4 does a better job with the regular road cars. Lastly, a “G-force” meter is available on the screen to give you additional feedback on the way your car is handling the road.
Cars still aren’t 100% accurate. As we mentioned in GT3, cars too old to have an on-board computer still benefit from a racing chip, and the Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren, which is only available in automatic in real-life, can be configured as a manual transmission.
We can understand having automatic transmission for cars that only exist as manual transmission cars for the sake of helping novices, but for a car such as the SLR, which is only automatic, we would have preferred that it be more truthfully modeled. It would be better if the difference between torque converters and computer-controlled clutches were in the game, and ideal if Polyphony Digital could implement the double-clutch systems found in the Audi TT and RS8, or CVT systems. One nice thing about the SLR McLaren is that the airbrake is appropriately implemented with better braking noticed at the higher speeds.
The Prius Hybrid Synergy Drive is also implemented properly and you can get a sense of the gas mileage and see the dynamic switching between gasoline and electric power. Interestingly the batteries never completely run out and no similar feature is seen with the Honda Insight hybrid vehicle.
In addition to the conventional upgrades from GT3, a supercharger and a nitrous oxide setup are two new upgrades in GT4. The game is unable to quantify the improvement in horsepower that arises from the nitrous although it does help you accelerate notably faster. You can customize the size of your shot and the nitrous oxide gets refilled at every race without any additional cost. We actually like the implementation of nitrous oxide in GT4– it’s not like the Fast and the Furious or Need for Speed Underground.
SIDEBAR: In a single race, the convertible will drive its top down with a 3D driver. If you’re racing against other cars, the top will be done -- yet another sign of the PS2’s age.
Force feedback in GT4 is even better than it was in GT3. The game supports the new Logitech Driving Force Pro with the 900 degree turning radius. We are disappointed that all cars lock at 900 degrees and that the MOMO Force isn’t supported. For racing, the shorter turning radius of the MOMO Force was more than adequate, and more importantly, the feel of both the wheel and pedals were significantly better with the older MOMO Force than the new one. Hopefully we can leave it to Konami’s Enthusia to bring MOMO Force support.
All of the cars have been re-recorded. While engine sounds continue to be superb, where a car in the game really sounds like the car in real life, we’re still disappointed that the Polyphony Digital has not incorporated additional subsonic bass into the recording. Gaming consoles are designed to be hooked up to home entertainment centers – having a killer subwoofer won’t be a rarity. Music is always hit or miss – I think it’s a miss other than a great opening song.
The “RPG” element of Gran Turismo 4 has been significantly improved from GT3. There are now 700 cars, which are NOT all Skyline GT-R variants. They’re genuinely cool cars you’d be interested in driving such as the Ford GT, the new 2005 Mustang GT, the DB9, the new 3-series, and even weird stuff such as the Land Rover Range Stormer and vintage cars such as the Supercharged 1971 Dodge Charger, the De Lorean, and even trucks such as the Chevy SSR or Ford SVT-F150 Concept (AWD for some reason – it should be RWD). There are now 50 tracks, many of them real tracks such as Fuji Speedway, Tsukuba, Infineon Raceway (Sears Point), a revised Mazda Speedway at Laguna Seca, and of course, the legendary Nurburgring Nordschleife.
The Nurburgring track is actually an exceptional feat for this game. Not only is this the only modern game with force feedback steering to implement an accurate Nurburgring (the other is the classic Grand Prix Legends for the PC), but it’s also a cool technical marvel from the team at Polyphony Digital. The geometry data for the 20.8 km track is too big to fit into the PS2’s 32MB of ram – they’re streaming the data on the fly from the DVD.
One great feature to the game is that in addition to entering in races to make money, you can also pay a $5-equivalent of credits in the game to drive on other courses in the game as if it were a race day. Everything is 500 credits (approximate to yen).
The car dealer system is different in GT4. In addition to the distribution by car manufacturer, there are also used car dealers where you may be able to find older cars for a bargain such as a good Hachi-Roku or older EVO IV. Some cars such as the Ford GT are not immediately available either – you’d have to wait for the dealer to get one in. One of the problems with GT3 was that the game did not give you enough cash to get started with a car you’d be interested in. Some people get tired of game before they can even get a chance to upgrade to the better cars. Unfortunately, this is still a problem with GT4. For the most part, that means starting off with the AE86, winning some races, and modding it up until you win a prize car that’s worth driving or have enough money to upgrade to some current era cars. After all, as good as the Hachi-Roku was in its time, no matter what anyone says, the Lotus Elise is a better car.
The licensing tests in GT4 are also tougher than the ones from GT3 but in a good way. It’s much more progressive in terms of difficulty, and you really get a sense that these license tests will help you become a better driver. Interestingly, there isn’t a lot of overlap between GT4 Prologue’s and the real game’s license tests. It’s not hard at all to get bronze, but gold seems more of a challenge than it was before.
GT4’s arcade mode is more of a free-drive approach where you don’t win anything from beating races. You slowly unlock more tracks as you play the main game. You’re able to choose from over 300 cars and 30 tracks from the very begining, with Nurburgring being one of the readily available tracks. That makes it great when friends are over and you just want to play. There’s no real “arcade mode” races such as in GT3 or what you might expect from a driving game at an arcade. The one disappointment with the arcade mode is that you are no longer able to load your modded cars from the memory card.
New to GT4 is the B-Spec mode, which is essentially a coaching mode. Knowing that some people will simply enjoy watching the cars race in HDTV glory, it’s possible to simply coach your driver by determining how aggressive your racer (by picking a number 1-5) and then pushing a single button when you want the driver to try to overtake an opponent’s car. We did not spend much time in this mode.
With GT4, it’s clear that replays were so last generation. Now, Polyphony Digital has implemented a still photo mode in which you can composite your shots any way you like and save them as a JPEG to a USB flash drive (any brand!). What’s great is that you can get HDTV-resolutions in this image and also get the benefit of non-real-time motion blur and depth of field effects. Using the replay theater it is possible to pause the action at any time and choose between 64 different camera positions (think physical locations) and then zoom in from 14mm to 687mm, tilt and pan.
|<% print_image("86"); %>|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|